During the last 10 years, online social networks rised from the ground and shot through the clouds of our daily lives at impressive speed. During the last 3 years, specialized social networks started to appear, including many focused on learning. Understanding and adopting that concept, BeezNest developed (in collaboration with the San Ignacio de Loyola University) an integrated learning network inside its e-learning platform: Chamilo.
But what is so great about social networks?
We think there are two great elements in online social networking (and also in classical social networking):
- you keep in touch with friends, have fun and organize stuff together
- you see a whole lot of things from a different perspective, through increased exposure to distinct point of views
Now if you have followed the e-learning trend a little in the last 3 years, you must have heard about serious gaming. Serious games are touted to be a very efficient development of learning, where people can learn while trying to reach objectives and, hopefully, have fun. Wikipedia’s article on Serious games gives us a lot more detailed information about the use of this term, quoting it from Clark Abt who (as far as Wikipedia’s author on the subject know) used the term as far back as 1970.
The bad thing about serious games is that you have to prepare them, and in general it takes a long time to do so.
The good thing about them is that a bunch of institutions state they allow for better information retention (people remember better what they learned playing than what they learned any other way).
Now, if we know learning capacity improves having fun, that we don’t have much time to prepare serious games and that social networks increases the possibilities to have fun, we have pretty much reached the first big advantage of social learning networks: they increase possibilities to learn.
Increased exposure to different opinions
Just as a reminder, education and teaching are not the same. Teaching can be done by providing knowledge to a student, while education should rather be done by opening a student’s perspective so that he can analyze things by himself and form his own opinion.
So if education can be done by opening a student’s mind and that we expose the student to more opinions through social networking, then what about considering that social networking helps educate people.
Now most people would stop me here, and remind me that letting loose on all kind of control is not going to help the student learn better, it’s just going to make him loose sight of any order of things and make it impossible for him to see clear through so much information. That’s where the teacher keeps and reinforces its position: a teacher, tutor or mentor should always be around, at least at the beginning, to help the student see through the mesh of information.
Having a social learning tool built *inside* of the Chamilo platform allowed institutions to ensure (through the agreement on terms and conditions) that students would focus their social exchange on learning or any kind of intellectual activity that goes in the same direction as what they are subscribed in the institution for. As I’m sure you are well aware, it is very easy for young or old students, given a friendly social interface, to slip into friendly or lovely discussions that have nothing to do with learning in itself (not that love and friendship are not interesting experiences themselves…).
Increased access to knowledgeable people
Now courses, be them written, talked, filmed or interactive games, could never replace knowledgeable people in terms of learning. Having a particular problem and asking for help can only be done through human interaction of some kind.
When you know knowledgeable people, you tend to ask them for help when faced with a problem you know they can help you solve. Having these people available, in a private context, through the platform you are using for learning makes for a much improved learning experience.
Obviously, people like to form groups around the same topic of interest. Now in real life, you’d have to walk with a “I love Japan” t-shirt to get people to know you are probably interested in exchanging about the Japanese culture. That’s not necessary inside an online platform. You can just say you’re interested in Japan culture, create a group and wait for people in the same institution to look for people interested in Japan. It’s like one major whiteboard where everyone can show and find topics of interest.
Allowing students to join interest groups will definitely focus the learning dynamics around that topic. Maybe it’s not directly related to what your institution is teaching, but then who knows, maybe they’ll find a relation and make your courses improve thanks to that.
Having your own platform
Now with Ning’s new CEO recently declaring that they will cut free community hosting services, you might wonder what to do. One possibility here is to use the free Chamilo campus for that, and share the space with a lot of other users.
Another possibility is to have your own portal, limited to a controllable environment. You can have that by downloading Chamilo and install it on your own server, or by hiring one of our good-value Chamilo hosting services.
Implementing the social network for learning into Chamilo has really been a great experience to us, and we are keen to hear you tell us how you use it and how you would like it to improve. Help us help you! Leave a comment here or contact us for more information.